• David Strittmatter

How to work at an elite level

If you can’t learn, you can’t thrive - Cal Newport

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Dear friend,


2 weeks ago, I finished reading the book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”.


If you believe the book’s hypotheses that


(A) High-Quality Work Produced = Time Spent x Intensity of Concentration (= deep work) and


(B) the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy,


then the few who cultivate this skill and make it the core of their working life will thrive.

What does this mean?


Our world has been becoming increasingly distracted. Companies earn billions by creating applications capturing our attention. The children and students of today grow up in a world where it seems impossible to cultivate the ability to perform deep work. And the workforce of today is incentivized to sit through several meetings throughout the day, eroding its skill to perform deep work.


Those who find ways to perform deep work despite the circumstances will produce outstanding work. Hence, they will never risk losing their job, have great leverage in salary negotiation, and feel a great sense of fulfillment in their work.


But how can we actually perform deep work and what are the tangible benefits of it? That’s what today’s blog article will be about.


Summary:

  • Deep work is when we work on something for hours without the distraction of something

  • Contrarily, shallow work is non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted

  • Deep work enables (1) the ability to quickly master hard things and (2) the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed

Practical advice:

  • Wear noise-canceling headphones whenever you have to perform deep work or lock yourself up in a quiet room

  • Remove any technical distraction, particularly your smartphone and electronic message apps (email, slack, etc.)

  • Create a deep work routine for yourself

Deep work vs. shallow work


To better understand what deep work actually is, we first want to understand what is not: “shallow work”.


The author of the book, Cal Newport, defines shallow work as non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. A typical example is sitting through a work meeting while writing emails. Further, that’s when we sit in a lecture or class while talking to our friends or being distracted by our smartphones, when we work on something while watching videos or writing every 5 minutes with a friend, or when we study while chatting every 10 minutes with our roommate.


These efforts tend to not create much new value and are easy to replicate.


Contrarily, deep work is performing activities in a state of distraction-free concentration, pushing our cognitive capabilities to their limit. By performing deep work regularly and towards a certain goal, we create output difficult to replicate fast.


Deep work is when we work on something for hours without the distraction of something. It’s when we sit in a quiet room (or at least wear noise-canceling headphones), shut off every source of technical distraction, and made the people around us aware that we don’t want to be distracted.


Benefits of deep work


Deep work enables (1) the ability to quickly master hard things and (2) the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.


(1) Should you ever want to learn something new in your job, deep work will greatly help you to succeed. For instance, if you want to learn how to code or write more clearly and concisely, you should apply the principles of deep work.


(2) If you want to achieve great results, i.e. outperform your peers, or good results faster, i.e. achieve the same results with less work, deep work is what makes you succeed.


Quick wins to deep work


How do I deep work?


Even though it’s really challenging to deep work in my job as a consultant (many meetings that have to fit the schedule of my clients, many ad-hoc requests via e-mail, spontaneous phone calls from clients, travel, etc.), I found ways to maximize the amount of deep work.


First, I wear my noise-canceling headphones whenever I have to perform deep work, for instance when I work on an Excel model, conceptualize something, or work on the storyline of a document. That helps me to signal to my colleagues that I don’t want to be disturbed and shut off any other physical distraction, such as noises.


Second, I stopped checking email and slack messages all the time. I blocked certain slots throughout the day to work through the pile of messages so I can work more concentrated during my deep work phases.


Further, I created a deep work routine for myself at the weekend. Currently, I’m trying to learn more about the latest technologies, such as blockchain technology, to identify and evaluate potential business opportunities. As that requires learning something new, I decided for myself to do that in deep work. So, I blocked 3 hours on my Sunday mornings and designed a habit around it: First, I make a cup of coffee. Second, I screen the to-dos I want to accomplish for this 3-hour session. Third, I write down what I actually want to accomplish in the next 3 hours. Forth, I lock myself up with no smartphone and start to deep work.

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